Golf Courses and Tree Hazards

Picture of Toso Bozic

Toso Bozic

Tree/Forestry Expert

Golf courses are meticulously designed landscapes that combine natural beauty with strategic gameplay. Trees, as integral elements of golf course, serve multiple purposes including to define the course layout, offer aesthetic appeal, provide shade, and can even serve as landmarks. Even though the likelihood of tree hitting golfers is very low, trees can present a variety of hazards to golfers, visitors, properties, and infrastructure. Understanding these tree hazards is crucial for course design, maintenance, and player strategy.

As I have been providing tree consulting services to golf course industry, I remind golf course superintendents about tree hazards and liabilities on their golf course properties. Under the Alberta Occupiers’ Liability Act that you as golf course owner is responsible under the “duty of care of visitors” to provide the safety to visitors and staff. The common duty of care applies in relation to: “ (a) the condition of the premises, (b) activities on the premises, and (c) the conduct of third parties on the premises”.
To address the Duty of Care, golf course manager may perform Tree Risk Hazard Assessment by qualified Arborist with Tree Risk Assessment Qualifications( TRAQ).
When tree or part of trees fall, they can possibly injure golfers, staff, visitors, damage golf course properties, including many adjacent private properties, and possibility of disruption golf course infrastructure( irrigation and powerlines). The golf course managers must understand and address potential tree risk and failure.

Trees contribute significantly to the character and challenge of a golf course. They can frame fairways, create visual interest, and add to the overall difficulty of the holes. A well-placed tree can force golfers to shape their shots around it, thereby increasing the complexity of the game. Trees also help in managing wind conditions by serving as natural windbreakers, affecting the flight of the ball.

From a maintenance perspective, trees play a role in soil stabilization(avoid soil erosion), water management, and providing habitats for wildlife, thus enhancing the environmental value of the golf course. However, when trees are not properly managed, they can become liabilities, leading to increased maintenance costs and safety concerns.

There is a significant and important distinction  between “tree risk” and “tree hazards”. Under the International Society of Arborist (ISA) – Tree Risk Assessment Manual defines them as follows:

  • Risk is the combination of the likelihood of an event and severity of the potential consequences. In the context of trees, tree risk is the likelihood of a conflict or tree failure occurring and affecting a target, and the severity of the associated consequences—personal injury, property damage, or disruption of activities.
  • A hazard is a likely source of harm. In relation to trees, a tree hazard is the tree part, or parts identified as a likely source of harm

Most of golf course are surrounded by a large number of trees, either naturally occurring or planted. Tree risks are not just around where people usually are bur also parking lots, private residential properties, and facilities.  How to recognize potential tree risks in your golf course:

  • Dead or dying trees may have brittle branches that can fall unexpectedly, posing a danger to players and affecting the course aesthetics
  • Diseases trees that are not healthy can become hazardous causing unexpected failure and damage.
  • Large broken branches hanging on the trees
  • Fallen branches that during storms or high winds, creating temporary hazards. These not only pose a risk to golfers but also require prompt maintenance to clear.
  • Trees that are uprooted and leaning against other trees
  • Trees with variety of mushrooms at their base or along the main stem
  • Hanging or detached branches
  • Forked trunks, co-dominant with equally size branches  and stems
  • Freshly disturbed soil around the base of leaning tree  
  • Trees with a large portion of their root system exposed or damaged can pose tripping hazards
  • Any soil related construction that can involve root removal or other damages. Any pavement upheavals by roots.
  • Any large open cracks or wounds with exposed decay in roots, trunk, or branches
  • Trees that have been heavily and improperly pruned ( lion tailing)
  • Trees heavily infested with a variety of wood boring insects and noticeable woodpecker activities.  
  • Trees exposed to wind after adjacent trees have been removed.
  • Any trees with thorns or poisonous fruits.

Picture 1: Several large branches broke off due to tree defects on trees at golf course

Golf course architects and superintendents play a critical role in managing tree hazards. Thoughtful course design can ensure that trees enhance the challenge and beauty of the course without becoming unfair or overly punitive.

  1. Safety considerations – ensuring that trees do not pose undue risk to players is essential. This includes regular inspections/assessment  and addressing any hazardous conditions promptly.
  2. Maintenance – regular pruning, trimming and removal of hazardous trees ensures player safety and maintains course aesthetics
  3. Strategic planting– Planting trees in locations that enhance the strategic element of the game without overly penalizing players is crucial. Trees should complement the natural landscape and course layout.

ATTS Group Inc professional and experienced Tree Expert and ISA Certified TRAQ Arborist offer  Limited Visual Assessment (Level 1) and Basic Assessment(Level 2). We provide wide range of tree consulting services to golf course industry to manage the trees on your golf course.

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